Estacada couple struggles to find housing
Larry Cutler can often be found around town taking photos, documenting the sights and people of Estacada with his camera.
For the last five years, Larry and his wife Anita rented an apartment on Main Street. But in April, the Cutlers received an eviction notice because the building they occupied had multiple code violations and was not zoned residentially.
Since moving oout of their home on Tuesday, Sept. 3, the couple has been unable to find permanent housing and is staying at a Motel 6 in Portland.
"I just want a roof over my head," said Larry, who has stage four Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and requires oxygen for most of the day. "I can't sleep in a tent pretending I'm a Boy Scout again."
The Cutlers hope to return to Estacada but cited several difficulties with finding a place to stay, including high costs and lack of inventory.
Though Estacada has added several subdivisions in recent years, a Housing Needs Analysis completed for Estacada this summer by ECONorthwest found that there was a deficit for multifamily housing by 199 units, and only 22% of the city's housing inventory was multifamily.
In 2018, 103 permits for single family houses were approved. In 2017, 59 permits for single family houses were approved, and in 2016, 51 permits for single family houses were approved. In those same years, no requests for multifamily dwellings were received.
Estacada Economic Development Manager Matt Lorenzen said that city leaders are striving to increase the diversity of housing options available, noting that there is "plenty of demand for (multifamily housing), both locally and regionally."
The Cutlers cited one difficulty with finding a new place to live as high rent costs, along with being unable to meet the requirement of income equaling three times the monthly rent. In Estacada, median gross rents are $648 per month, compared to $1,091 for Clackamas County as a whole.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development noted that families who pay 30% of their monthly income toward housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording other necessities. The Housing Needs Analysis found that approximately 38% of households in Estacada are in this category; within this figure, about 55% of renters and 27% of homeowners are cost burdened.
Larry and Anita noted that finding an apartment that does not cost more than 30% of their income, which comes from social security disability benefits, has been "extremely hard."
"They want more than we can afford," Anita said. "We barely make it through. We save cans and bottles just for milk and bread to make it through the month."
The Housing Needs Analysis also found that the costs of homes are rising in Estacada and surrounding areas. From February 2015 to February 2019, the median housing sale price in Estacada rose by 28%, or from $234,900 to $299,900. Throughout Clackamas County, the median housing sale price increased by 46%.
Though Estacada has several low cost housing communities, many are at capacity.
Darleen Strid of 300 Main said that there are more than 50 people on the waitlist with the 25-unit senior living complex. Residents must be 62 or older or 18 and older with mobility difficulties, and the yearly income cap for a single resident is $18,450. Strid estimated that the wait for someone who wishes to join the 300 Main community would be six months to two years.
The 62 units offered by Whispering Pines Senior Village are also full, and their waitlist is two-to- wo and a half years long.
"There's not enough affordable housing in Estacada," Strid said, noting that 300 Main is "always" at capacity. "The lack of housing is very sad."
Looking to the future
One reason for lack of apartment complexes in Estacada is the way the city is zoned. The Housing Needs Analysis outlined that around 93% of the city's unconstrained buildable residential land is in the Low Density Residential Plan Designation, which is reserved for single-family detached housing and manufactured homes on lots.
The analysis concluded, "The clearest option for addressing this deficit (of multifamily housing) is to re-zone land from Low Density Residential . . .to Multiple Family Residential."
Lorenzen noted that city leaders are working toward creating new zoning that will allow for an increased variety of housing options. The changes may be considered by the City Council as early as December.
Along with updating zoning, Estacada City Council President Katy Dunsmuir hopes to see a construction excise tax implemented in Estacada to create housing that is affordable with the local market wage. Under the program, as outlined in 2016's SB 1533-B, residential construction would be taxed at 1% of its permit value, and the money would go toward developer incentives for multifamily housing, affordable housing programs as defined by local jurisdictions, and the Oregon Housing and Community Services, who have pledged to use funds collected from a construction excise tax area in that location.
"One of the biggest barriers that we've heard from potential developers is the cost of the (service development charges). If you build one home, you only have to pay those SDCs once. But if you build a duplex, you have to pay those SDCs twice, and if you build four, you have to pay it four times," Dunsmuir said. "That is a major barrier that exists in our city."
She noted that future steps would be to have a City Council work session to determine the specifics of the plan and then a public hearing.
"What I would really like to see are people who are directly affected by the lack of multifamily housing in Estacada to show up at that public comment period, because I don't want the only people there to be the developers," she said.
Dunsmuir hopes to see the construction excise tax implemented by next spring, citing the number of homes and subdivisions that are in development.
"Right now is the time to capitalize on it. If we're ever going to capitalize on a construction excise tax, it's going to be at the peak of development," she said. "I just want to see everyone in Estacada be able to find a home that is comfortable and safe and affordable."
Dunsmuir added that creating a diverse collection of housing options is "a big puzzle, and (a construction excise tax) is just one piece to that very big puzzle."
"We need to find all of those pieces and connect them all together," she said.
Dunsmuir said that if a construction excise tax is implemented, it may help people in the future who are in situations similar to what the Cutlers are facing now.
"I would like to think that in five years with the implementation of the CET, that people with their same story, their same situation, would have a much easier time, not only finding a place, but also receiving help from the city," she said.
Meanwhile, the Cutlers are eager to find another place to live in Estacada.
"The town is just amazing. There's just something about it. Everybody knows everybody. You walk down the street, somebody honks their horn, 'Hey Larry, how you doing?'" he said. "I love Estacada."
In February, the city of Estacada sent a letter to property owner Michael Misley outlining several code violations at 303 S.E. Main St., where Larry and Anita Cutler lived. Along with the Cutlers' apartment, the building was also home to Zoe's Cleaning Service and Misley's office.
"You were informed in the letter dated March 22, 2018, that to continue with the mixed occupancy use, you were required to come into compliance with the current Oregon Specialty Codes for the apartment R-2 Occupancy use," the letter stated. "A City property address file review with documents dating back to June of 1966 have no former or existing approvals for a dwelling unit use."
Code violations included a lack of windows in each sleeping room, a means of exhausting cooking fumes and smoke and fire detectors.
An eviction notice to the Cutlers dated April 4 noted that the "city of Estacada requires major fire code related work to be done. Work cannot be performed with any tenant nearby."
"I never had problems with Larry and Anita. They were really good tenants," Misley said, noting that the building had been used as residential prior to the time he purchased the property.
In June, a Clackamas County Judge ruled that the Cutlers were to vacate the property by Sept. 3, and Misley was to waive rent through the September vacancy date, return the security deposit and assist packing and moving possessions in the Estacada area.
Since the Cutlers moved, the building has been vacant.
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